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Kerre Woodham: How can Te Whatu Ora justify that spending?

Author
Kerre Woodham,
Publish Date
Fri, 24 Nov 2023, 2:13PM
The "big four" accountancy firms were paid $70m by Te Whatu Ora for consulting work over the last year. Photo / 123rf
The "big four" accountancy firms were paid $70m by Te Whatu Ora for consulting work over the last year. Photo / 123rf

Kerre Woodham: How can Te Whatu Ora justify that spending?

Author
Kerre Woodham,
Publish Date
Fri, 24 Nov 2023, 2:13PM

The talk is over, the ink is dry on the contracts, let the governance begin.  

Prime Minister-in-waiting, Christopher Luxon, is due to speak this morning, giving us the broad shape of what the 54th New Zealand government will look like. And let's hope that once they start the governing proper, we see the last of these sorts of headlines: “Te Whatu Ora’s more than $100m consultant bill”.  

A $100 million on consultants. $70 million went to the big four firms. Deloittes, they were paid $43.6 million by Te Whatu Ora in the past year alone. Previous to that, they’d got $34 million a year, before that $19 million.  

PricewaterhouseCoopers were paid $9.4 million in the past year. Ernst and Young $7.9, KPMG $8.7 million. The Te Whatu Ora CFO, so the head of the of the money, he said the organisation couldn't disclose specific details about the contracted work. And this is where you go now into the gobbledygook that is professional bureaucratic speak. You might speak it. I mean, you might have had to learn to speak it so that you could advance in your career. I've never had to learn to speak it. I can still speak plainly and clearly, as can talk back callers.  

The last time we had this sort of gobbledygook was when the Police Commissioner was on. He speaks it so he might know. Perhaps I should ring him. Perhaps I should ring him and ask him what on earth this means.  

So we'd ask where the money had gone. Te Whatu Ora could not disclose specific details about the contract of work. I don't know why not. Public money. Public organisation. I don't know. I don't know how you wouldn't be able to disclose it. But some of the spending according to the CFO would have gone towards supporting change and transformation work resulting from the health reforms.  

For example, Te Whatu Ora has engaged consultants to assist with the development of new national operating models to establish the Pae Ora delivery unit within the organisation which provides support, governance, and oversight of our key strategic change initiatives and to assist with the implementation of new structures.  

What does that mean? It says nothing. It says absolutely nothing. I am still none the clearer as to where the money's gone. What? What are the initiatives? What are the key strategic change initiatives? Support governance? By the time you reach the end of the sentence, you’ve forgotten what the start of it was because there was nothing to hang on to.  

Unless you can interpret it for me, and I'd be very grateful if you do speak bureaucratic gobbledygook, I'd love to know what exactly that means. Where that money has gone. The bloke from Te Whatu Ora told Mike Hosking this morning that hey, $100 mil, sure, but at least they've got that down from the $139 million they spent last year.  

So this is not a one-off figure that you can say, okay, we're going to set up a system, establish the Pae Ora delivery unit within the organisation. So we've set it up, done it once, done it right, Bob's your uncle. Take my $100 mil and bugger off. No, we do it every year, it seems. $139 million last year, $100 million this year. If I was working in the health system, or waiting on an operation, and I woke up this morning and I heard that news story, I would be pretty dark heading off to work. What could you do with $100 million within the health system in a year. Andrew Slater, who was the bloke from Te Whatu Ora, their Chief People officer, explained what they'd spent some of it on.   

“Where we've really used those consultants over the last year has been doing some things where we just can't and doesn't make sense to have those skills in house all of the time. So for example, we've set up our national Security Operations Centre that is looking at all of our systems and making sure we keep New Zealand’s data safe and private and well protected. And that would be an example of where we used one of those firms to kind of shoulder and bring that expertise to it.“ 

And that's great. I get that. If you need to bring in people short-term to deliver something, but why do you need to do it every single year? Like if you're bringing some data security experts in, don't you do it once, do it right and you've done it. How is it that you have to spend that sort of money every year?  

And why can't they tell us exactly? See that was good, Andrew. Some of that would have been spent on data security and protecting access to patients' records. There have been data breaches at health boards around the country, so great, good. But seriously.  

I know that too that there may well be restrictions around hiring. You might not be able to bring people in full time because that involves holiday pay and that involves all the other leave requirement, health and safety, and you know the whole holistic, nurturing and protection and care of an employee. So you think excellent, I'll get around that. I'll just hire a few contractors. They send me an invoice. I can pay. It doesn't have to go through the absolute ache of the hiring process, that's fine.   

What could you do with 100 million? You could fly in a whole bunch of specialist doctors on working holidays to clear the backlog, couldn't you? To clear the most immediate cases. I can understand spending $139 million on consultants to set up a new organisation, to set up a management unit. But every year? How do you justify that?  

And I ask that as a genuine question, how do you justify that? 

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